Feb 012013

According to the superscription, the poet had asked a benefactor for a gift of wine. Instead he got cheese, so he composed this poem. This one reads true to me. The poet’s priorities (wine; everything else), apparent socio-economic status (shiftless) and preferred manner of both problem-solving and human relations (sarcastic invective) all strike me as very familiar. Ibn Khalfun had gotten himself all psyched up for wine, and instead found a ripening wheel of Manchego sitting there on the doorstep. I don’t know if you can identify, but I can.

I bet he never did get that wine, though.

Yitzḥak ibn Khalfun (960? – 1020?)
I Asked You

I asked you, O lord of my soul, singing gladly,
And so long before you I poured out my plea,
As a tower of might I set you for my banner,
Before every foe as an aegis and shield,
As a sheltering hut against sunlight and khamseen,
A furnace on days that turn snowy and wintry.
You kept me in mind – and so may God keep you! –
Like Elkanah kept Peninah in memory.1
And so as a gift you’ve delivered me cheese,
But what good is cheese when I’m thirsty?

יצחק אבן כלפון / إسحاق ابن خلفون
שאלתיך אדון נפשי

שְׁאִלְתִּיךָ, אֲדוֹן נַפְשִׁי, בְּרִנָּה
וְהִרְבֵּיתִי לְפָנֶיךָ תְּחִנָּה,
וְשַׂמְתִּיךָ כְּמִגְדַּל עֹז לְנִסִּי
וְלִפְנֵי צַר כְּסוֹחֵרָה וְצִנָּה,
וְכַסֻּכָּה בְּיוֹם שֶׁמֶשׁ וְשָׁרָב
וְגַם כָּאָח בְּיוֹם שֶׁלֶג וְצִנָּה.
זְכַרְתַּנִי, זְכָרָךְ אֵל לְטוֹבָה,
כְּאֶלְקָנָה בְזָכְרוֹ אֶת פְּנִנָּה
וְשָׁלַחְתָּ גְבִינָה לִי לְמָנָה —
וּמַה יִּדְמֶה בְּיוֹם אֶצְמָא גְּבִינָה?


She’iltíkha, ‘adón nafshí, be-rináh
Ve-hirbéiti lefanékha teḥináh,
Ve-samtíkha ke-migdál ʕoz le-nisí
Ve-lifnéi tzar ke-soḥeiráh ve-tzináh,
Ve-kha-sukáh be-yóm shémesh ve-sharáv
Ve-gám ka-‘áḥ be-yóm shéleg ve-tzináh.
Zekhartáni, zekharákh ‘eil le-továh,
Ke-‘elkanáh ve-zokhró ‘et penináh
Ve-shaláḥta gevináh li le-manáh —
U-máh yidméh be-yóm ‘etzmá gevináh?

  1. 1 Samuel. Peninah was the fertile one among Elkanah’s two wives, yet she and her children got single portions while the barren Hannah got a double portion. Peninah, like our boozy troubadour, got chumped.

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